Ink on paper, colored pencil, decorative paper, 45” x 12.5”
The world went to war soon after Britain’s Mr. Chamberlain waved his peace paper. He shouldn’t have done that. He should have fought. There would have been honor in it, or so I thought. But there was no honor till long afterwards, after dust and fire and noise, destruction and mass murder in forests, streets, ghettos, and camps all over our country.
What about love, though? There is always love, in perpetuity. Two days before the war began, I had a love letter in my hand. It took a day to write. It was to a pretty girl who lived across Pomerania, the so-called Corridor. It said the trite and tested things love letters have said for centuries, have said in books and movies. Yet there I sat in my room in what is now and was always Gdańsk, conjuring the clichés out of the air, scribing them, crossing them out, writing them again, but better. There was one suggestion only in that letter: to go out sometime—out walking, that was the usual phrase, but it suggested a longer walk, to church, and to eternity.
Her name was . . . Anja. Well, it might have been Ola. Or Kasia. I think she was pretty—she must have been pretty. I remember the letter better than its intended recipient. That’s disloyal, in some way, but, unlike her, the letter was destined to stay with me always.
The enemy attacked from the sea—two days before the start of the war. How did they manage that, to be there before the war, starting it? A slip in time. They attacked from the land, too, and were joined from the eastern side by the Soviets. It would be the beginning of the end for all of them, though they were too well-armed to realize it at the time, too enthused to see that destruction consumes everything, its perpetrators too. The lucky ones outside its circle will examine it, pass judgment, poke holes, make fun, eventually, and say, What were they thinking of when they started that war?
Just as honor is a retroactive bonus, history is eventually unkind to the brash. That was no help to me, two days before the war. I had a stamp to buy and a letter to post, but the enemy had burned the Danzig post office to the ground, postponing its normal business for the flaming future. I ran for my life, and for the sea, but finally took to the air to fight another day.
I left my letter behind, or so I thought, but it’s with me. I will one day conjure it up again. I will check its vocabulary and spelling, and iron out its creases with the flat of my hand. It will achieve perfection, and I will go to the post office in what was Danzig but is forever Gdańsk, buy that stamp, and post it into perpetuity, to take its rightful place.
Nick Sweeney’s stories are scattered around the web and in print. Laikonik Express, his Poland-set novel, came out with Unthank Books. His novella A Blue Coast Mystery, about the swingin’ sixties and genocide, will be published in November 2020 by Histria Books. He is a freelance writer and musician, and lives on the English coast. More than any sane person could want to know about him can be found at www.nicksweeneywriting.com.